Mikulski Continues Call for Consideration of a Clean DHS Funding Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor to once again urge her colleagues to take up and pass the clean Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations funding bill (S. 272) that she and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced last week.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as delivered:
“I come to the floor as Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee to urge the Senate to pass a clean Homeland Security Appropriations bill. Yesterday the Senate rejected a procedural vote to take up the House Homeland Security funding bill.
“This is not about debating in the weeds of this bill over that bill. There are two distinct differences. The House bill has both the funding for fiscal year 2015 in it, which would take care of every single agency under the Department of Homeland Security that defends and protects the nation. But at the same time, the House bill is loaded with five immigration riders, which we call poison pill riders, because if DHS funding legislation passes with these five immigration riders, the President will veto the bill. The President wants to fund a DHS appropriations bill, and so do I.
“If the Senate took up and debated the House homeland security bill, it would simply be a delaying tactic. We would talk, we would debate, we would offer lots of amendments on immigration. And after we did lots of amendments on immigration, it would go to the President, the President would veto it and it would come back. And after all is said and done, more gets said than gets done. We’ve got to pass the funding for protecting of the homeland.
“Yesterday, the entire world was gripped with poignancy and sorrow over the ghoulish murder of a Jordanian pilot. The threat of terrorism is in the world: attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the possibility of a lone wolf attack in our country, a cyberattack and retaliation because we dare to fight back against ISIL and other international predators.
“We’ve got to protect the United States of America. That’s what the Department of Homeland Security does. The Department of Defense protects us abroad, but the Department of Homeland Security protects us here. After 9/11, one of the worst days in our country’s history, Congress came together and passed legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security, taking every agency that is involved in protecting the homeland and putting them under one umbrella so they could look out for us. Now, we need to look out for them.
“Every day, we ask our men and women who serve in the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, on Border Patrol and Customs to protect us, making sure our borders are secure and products like counterfeit drugs are not crossing into our country. Now we need to pass a clean funding bill so we don’t ask them to work without pay as they protect our nation.
“We need to make sure we do not have a shutdown or slamdown when the funding expires on February 27. In December, when I chaired the Committee, in the closing hours of the last Congress, I worked with my Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman, Senator Mary Landrieu, and the Vice Chairman, Senator Coats, to put together a crucial funding bill that totaled $46 billion to invest in the agencies that protects us. It was $1 billion more than a continuing funding resolution.
“We could have taken up that bill then, but there was a desire not to because of controversy over the President’s actions on immigration. So now here we are in February. Now it’s our time to pass a clean Department of Homeland Security funding bill. 
“Immigration is a serious policy issue. I don’t dispute that. It deserves serious debate. But don’t add it as a series of riders to a funding bill. Rather, let’s take up immigration separately. I remind my colleagues that this Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill last congress, only to have it die in the House. So let’s pass our bill again, let’s have the House take it up, and let’s have a real debate on it. And in the meantime, let’s pass a clean homeland security funding bill. 
“Now, this isn’t just Barb Mikulski talking about more government spending. Former Department of Homeland Security Secretaries Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano, have urged the Senate to separate DHS funding from the immigration debate, and called on us to pass a clean funding bill. 
“Right now our Coast Guard is out there safeguarding our waterways. We in Maryland just love our Coast Guard. We love them because they’re always there for search and rescue missions and they’re always there to protect our Chesapeake Bay against a possible oil spill or drug dealers trying to sneak up the bay. They’re always there and always brave, like when they went up in helicopters and rescued people during the horrific Hurricane Katrina. They work to protect and rescue us every day. 
“And then there’s the Secret Service, which is in the process of reforming itself. They need to protect the President, the Vice President, and the First Family, but they’re also out there fighting things like credit card fraud. DHS employees work every day, protecting our critical infrastructure, our banking system, our power grid and our cyber networks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responding to disasters, whether it’s a hurricane or a blizzard like the one pounding the Northeast right now.
“There are also the state and local first responders. One of the programs I’m so proud of in the Department of Homeland Security is the FIRE grant program. The FIRE grant program is a competitive grant program, not an earmark program, where local fire departments, particularly those in our rural communities, can apply for a grant to buy the necessary equipment they need to protect them, so they protect us. Turnout gear for a firefighter – the respiratory equipment to protect their breathing, the telecommunications, the fire retardant and repellant material – can cost as much as $1,000 to $2,000 per firefighter. You can’t pay for these with pancake breakfasts. You can’t pay for them with fish frys and chicken dinners. First responders need the help of their government, so they can continue to help us. 
“So I say, let’s pass a clean homeland security bill. Let’s stop terrorist threats, let’s secure our borders, let’s safeguard our waterways, let’s make sure we’re protecting our homeland and we can do that by moving to a clean bill.”